- Inside Voices is a platform to examine employers and how they deal with diversity and inclusion.
- Founder Ekow Sanni-Thomas opted for organic growth on TikTok rather than seeking VC funding.
- Sanni-Thomas spoke with Insider about what he learned as a black employee in the corporate world.
By the time Ekow Sanni-Thomas left the corporate world after 11 years in real estate, he had seen how easy it was for companies to turn their backs on black employees when they claimed to promote diversity. and inclusion.
“It’s an issue that I’ve faced throughout my career, not only the lack of diversity, but companies with a false reputation,” Sanni-Thomas said.
Her negative experience at her last job sparked the idea for her startup, Inside Voices, an online platform for various workers to submit anonymous reviews about their employers. It’s similar to other review sites, like Glassdoor or Indeed, but it’s designed to share the unique perspectives of underrepresented employees.
Sanni-Thomas says transparency is a way to equip workers of color with the knowledge they need to find the right company.
Since the global toll on racism and police brutality two years ago, companies have pledged billions of dollars to anti-racism causes and set targets to recruit and retain black talent. However, many consultants, professors and employees say diversity efforts to date have failed in the corporate world.
“The only reason companies can get away with this is that there’s no transparency,” Sanni-Thomas said. “There’s no place for us to hold them accountable. That’s where Inside Voices intends to step in.”
Build a business from scratch
Inside Voices also aims to address some of the challenges that other review websites face.
Sanni-Thomas said he’s focused on designing the website to eliminate spam and provide relevant information to black and brown employees. Users submit anonymous reviews, answering questions created by diversity experts, such as: “What do you think of this statement: I would recommend my business to a person of color?”
Sanni-Thomas said Inside Voices currently has about 5,000 user reviews, from top companies like Salesforce, Google, and Deloitte, among others.
Since leaving his job to start his company in March 2021, Sanni-Thomas has made intentional choices as CEO to ensure that the Inside Voices foundation remains aligned with its mission.
First, he says he took the extra time to find contractors of color to build his website. He also made the decision to stay away from venture capital funding, funding the initial product from his only savings account. In 2020, just 3% of venture capital funding went to black-owned businesses, despite black entrepreneurs owning 10% of businesses in the United States, according to Reuters.
For a while, users arrived slowly. But when Sanni-Thomas committed to using TikTok and LinkedIn, he finally found his footing. Inside Voices currently has more than 31,000 followers on TikTok and Sanni-Thomas has become an influential diversity voice on the #careertok hashtag, which is frequented by influencers who give advice on career development.
“There’s nothing for organic growth like TikTok, especially when you have a $0 marketing budget,” Sanni-Thomas said. “I gave up for nine months, getting one review here, two here. Then I started using TikTok and LinkedIn and everything changed from there.”
With two betas and thousands of users to show for its success, Sanni-Thomas is now entering its first round of VC funding.
Career advice for various talents
A career as a black employee in the corporate world is like a game of snakes and ladders, Sanni-Thomas said, referring to the board game where ladders send you to your goal and snakes take you to your goal. return to the starting line.
“There are a lot more snakes than ladders,” he said.
When he started his career, Sanni-Thomas said he thought he was thick-skinned, but over time he realized that dealing with racism in the workplace was taking a toll on his mental health. He felt like he wasn’t doing enough.
“I wish I had been a little nicer to myself,” he said. “If you don’t reach all of the milestones you hoped to reach at the desired speed, just be forgiving and know that much of it was out of your hands.”
Sanni-Thomas also pointed to his own privilege – as a man with a British accent and savings in the bank – as the kickstarter for Inside Voices. Black women, in particular, are “discriminated against with a regularity and ferocity that would simply stop most people from trying,” he said.
As he builds his community and his team at Inside Voices, he wants to make sure that the fight against misogynorism – discrimination against black women – is at the center of his mission.
“I’m not just here to build a business, just to build a business,” he said. “With that being my guiding principle, I don’t think I really have any choice but to stand firm on the path.”